Friday, February 21, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Old School' goes for laughs, even if it is the butt of jokes

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review

"Old School," with Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Ellen Pompeo, Leah Remini, Jeremy Piven. Directed by Todd Phillips, from a screenplay by Phillips and Scot Armstrong. 91 minutes. Rated R for some strong sexual content, nudity and language. Several theaters.

Let us ponder the vision of a naked Will Ferrell, jogging purposefully through the night streets of a quiet college town, his rear end glowing white like a jiggly beacon. Or, if you'd rather not ponder it, don't go see "Old School," in which the nude Ferrell — who could well be the man for whom the phrase "sorry ass" was invented — is used as a visual punch line. Once seen, it's an image difficult to erase from memory — and believe me, I'm trying.

Naked former "Saturday Night Live" cast members aside, "Old School" delivers on what its ubiquitous commercials promise: a predictable for-the-boys comedy that does contain a few genuine laughs (not to mention a very funny reference to "The Graduate"). Not quite enough to justify giving this movie 91 minutes of your life, but as stupid gross-out comedies go, you could do worse.

The story's a sort of older version of "Revenge of the Nerds" meets "Animal House," with a slight twist: Three 30-ish buddies, frustrated by their nowhere lives and the women who seemingly control them, form a fraternity on their old college campus. Others join them, including a handful of college-age kids (brought in, presumably, to attract a younger movie audience), and the parties, hazing and wrestling topless females in KY Jelly begin. When a college administrator (Jeremy Piven) tries to put a stop to the fraternity, the guys must prove their mettle in a series of intellectual and physical challenges, which is a polite way of saying that Ferrell does some really dopey rhythmic gymnastics and that Piven looks annoyed a lot.

Luke Wilson, Owen's cute but less-funny brother, stars as the cheerfully bland Mitch, a regular guy blindsided by the infidelity of his adventurous girlfriend (Juliette Lewis, sucking on cigarettes as if they're popsicles). He's given a less-dangerous-looking love interest: Ellen Pompeo ("Moonlight Mile"), she of the curly smile and Renée Zellweger-like crinkly voice, who wanders aimlessly but pleasantly through the movie. The screenwriters could have saved time by putting her in a T-shirt that read "Nice Unthreatening Woman: Don't Be Afraid."

Really, the unspoken subtext of "Old School" is anxiety — about women, about commitment, about settling for a mundane life, about becoming dismembered (and I use the term quite precisely) when a fraternity prank involving rope and concrete blocks goes horribly wrong. But it's not meant to be examined seriously; this throwaway movie, with its oddball cameos (among them Snoop Dogg, Andy Dick and Democrat pundit James Carville, who must be hard up for a gig these days) and fat-kid sight gags, is only after a laugh. And if that comes in the guise of Ferrell's pasty posterior — well, in these dark days, a laugh is still a laugh.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or


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